The Politics of Hair and How Salon Just Ruined My Life. Pity the Children.

A friend of a friend, who is a hairstylist, just called me to book an appointment for my children to come in.

That sounds terribly kind, efficient and proactive, but just between you, me and some frizzy hair, it is a trap. This appointment might seem like a harmless liaison to arrange some kiddie-curls, but I sense a more sinister, pressing and urgent motive. I’ve watched TLC. I know all about interventions.

Here’s what I know for sure: it all starts with Guy Kawasaki. Frickin’ Guy Kawasaki or, more accurately, an intern paid to tweet under Guy Kawasaki’s name, posted a link on Twitter last week to an interesting Salon piece.

Disclaimer: I think pretty much everything at Salon is interesting, so I clicked on it and in return for my unwavering devotion, Salon has ruined my life.

I’m not overstating this and there will be italics harmed in the making of this post. The Salon piece that ruined my life was about shampoo and how it is fucking killing you.

Guy Kawasaki, Twitter, Salon, and Bill Bunn have jointly and severally straight up conspired to ruin my life and all of them should be exceptionally thankful that I’m not litigious or that I am but I lack the funds for a lawyer or that I know that lawyers take these cases on a contigency basis but I’m just too plain lazy to pursue it.

I’m not too lazy to write about it, however, because writing is easy and doesn’t require leaving the house, and leaving the house is a problem because that requires showering, and now I can’t use shampoo, goddamn it, which means that since reading the piece at Salon about the evils of shampoo I am now housebound. And fasting. I’m housebound and fasting. This is going nowhere good, in a hurry. The refrigerator may need a lawyer, too.

I’m so distraught about the situation that I can’t even summarize the article. It is traumatizing and life-changing, so I insist you go read it yourself.

****this is you, reading the article. When you’re finished, we’ll talk****

***did you read it? omg isn’t it awful? aren’t you traumatized???*****

I KNOW! I am totally freaked out, too.

Bill Bunn makes a pretty terrifying argument that the chemicals in these shampoos are getting washed down the drain and causing male fish to grow ovaries and yes, that worries me, and I can connect the dots. This shit is at least mildy bad for you and possibly really, really bad for you. And we put it this stuff on our heads! Male fish are growing ovaries, dear readers! I don’t know about you, but I really don’t need my scalp to grow ovaries. I find the ones I’ve got to be well-sited and therefore deviations from the status quo would be unnecessary and unwelcome.

But Bill Bunn clearly is not invested in having a gleaming chestnut bob or smelling like yummy citrus sundae. He dismisses such concerns as ‘psychological’. I take issue with that. Shiny hair, and I know this for an imaginary fact, IS on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and if it isn’t, it is just because Maslow was jealous of my Cleopatra-do. I suspect Bill Bunn, who is Canadian and therefore probably my neighbour, is also envious of my shiny hair. Now that’s psychological for ya, Bill.

Still, Bill does prescribe a solution. Thank goodness, because I thought the answer was going to be no shampoo at all, ever and mass suicide would result and heterosexual men would be very, very lonely.

The answer is Sunlight. The dish detergent. That is what is safe to use to wash your hair. Sunlight. The dish detergent.

I KNOW! I am totally freaked out, too.

Look, it’s not even about me and my vanity. I’m worried about the children. My children. My beautiful, biracial children with fine, soft, ringlets. They have gorgeous hair and everyone likes to touch it and talk about it. Black, white, brown, turtles, goats, demi-gods – it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, the interest in the texture of my children’s hair is unflagging and universal.

For women in general, hair is a big issue and I think for black women in particular, Hair Is A Great Big Giant Massive Issue of Epic Proportions.

When my former partner and I were first together, his teenage sister lived with us and gave me a crash course on Serious Hair, The Lifestyle. When she got her hair braided,it was an epic undertaking of endurance and joy, sort of like a music festival mixed with a marathon but with hair as the main event. It was a feat of endurance that took days. Three or four young women would camp out at our house for a weekend and braid each other’s hair. They’d talk to each other, cook for each other, run errands for each other (in hats and scarves), and braid each other’s hair until the wee hours of the morning, and then in the morning start all over again.

It was amazing. It took forever. It was an exercise in feminine community. It was touching. I sometimes ended up braided, too, because who could resist being touched and talked to and immersed in female bonding for three days?

Logically, then, the black women in my children’s father’s family are intensely interested in how I manage my girls’ hair. It goes like this:

“hi, how are you, a curse upon your house for leaving my brother/cousin/nephew/son you heartless hussy (usually they just say this part in their heads, but sometimes it slips out), so nice to see you, how are the girls, what are you using in their hair? Can you braid?”

Sometimes I suspect that the futures of my children are a function of my ability to make good straight plaits with fresh lines.

But after reading this Salon piece which made me fear the nuclear ingredients I was pouring over my own head, how can I, in good conscience, rub toxic, cancer-causing chemicals into the scalps of my babies?

And how can I not?

Do you know what happens when a white mama walks around with two black babies with bad hair? I do, or I think I do, and it strikes fear in my heart.

Every day, I send my children to school with freshly scraped pony-tails or braids or moussed ringlets and gleaming faces and every day when I return to fetch my children, I sigh. Their daycare is on acreage and because they play outside (hallelujah) and dig for bugs and pick blackberries and take mudbaths, my children are inevitably straight up filthy and whatever semblance of order I imposed on their hair has been challenged until it accepts the coup and seeks refuge in the domestic bermuda triangle that disappears hair-ties, barrettes, and single socks.

When I pick up my girls they are happy, exercised, energised, but filthy. And then we’ll need milk or bread or in the bad old days, shampoo, and I’ll have to stop at the grocery store, and I can see it. I can see people – black, white, brown, indeterminate – shaking their heads (even if only in their heads and in mine) at the oblivious white mama who lets her black babies run around with ashy knees and dirty faces and doesn’t know how to do hair.

In those moments, I’m pretty sure that my girls are pitied and their lack of culture and their futures as conflicted, self-hating Oreos are inscribed in wild lines of wayward curls.

And if you think I am being oversensitive and paranoid, I am.

But I worry about these things: I worry that I’m not giving my girls the tools they need to be strong black women, because how can I? And let’s be real: everyday, my little family is the subject of judgement.

Sometimes we make the cut, because oh mixed babies are just so cute. But the days when we are just being normal, and I’m tired and frazzled and snappy and they’ve got messy hair and dirty faces and are acting up in the grocery store, we’re not just being normal. We’re being judged.

With this ever constant-fear of being judged – by white people, for having black babies, by black people, for having black babies and not knowing how to do their hair or keep their skin shiny – I wondered: dare I wash their hair with Sunlight and risk the frizzies and the shame?

So I called a black girlfriend and asked her if Sunlight was okay. Her answer went like this. “What?” Pause. “Sunlight?” Pause. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?????”

In the interests of diversity, I called a white girlfriend. Her answer went like this. “What?” Pause. “Sunlight?” Pause. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?????”

Clearly the female vote was not shining on Sunlight. I decided to get really diverse, and ask a man, and a man who truly has a stake in the matter.

I called my girls’ dad. He was equally concerned about the evils being poured over our babies’ heads, until I got to the part where I proposed using dishsoap in their hair.

He shaves his head, which means he uses whatever soap is in the shower and shampoo does not occupy a prominent place in his domain of expertise. Being a good man, and an even better dad, he very helpfully offered to call one of his sisters or his mother to find out what pending aesthetic travesties Sunlight will inflict on black hair and whether he needed to seek custody.

He called one person and she called one person and she called one person and then a hairdresser called me to insist that I bring in the girls because I am a white mama run organically amok who doesn’t know about black hair and I’m pretty sure that child services will be waiting at this appointment or at least conducting discreet surveillance in an unmarked van across the street.

So when I said Salon ruined my life, I wasn’t kidding.

And you should see our hair.

About the author

Kelly Diels I'm Kelly Diels. I'm a writer, the founder of Cleavage (The Lines that Shape Us), and I wrote this blog post just for you. You can also find me on Twitter and darlin', please do. xoxo, K

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